by Nick James
We’re used to the news of technology emanating out from Silicon Valley. Competition keeps us at the cutting edge, so much so that it can drown out some of the world’s most exciting examples of innovation. But when we extract ourselves from the context of apps delivering convenience, on-demand services, and ad-tech we realizes that some of the world’s most truly innovative breakthroughs are happening in Africa’s emerging economies. With the recent launch of Android One, Google’s splash is a big step that’s drawing attention to Africa’s burgeoning technology industry.
Google’s decision to launch mainstream sub-$100 smartphones is indicative of a shift in perception. A picture of Africa is coming into focus that stirs excitement — excitement at the market opportunities, which are beginning to resemble a technological gold rush. What are the expectations of a modern African consumer? The outlook is promising enough that Google is confidently starting their Android One — while impressively priced at under $100 — up to twice the price of some generic Chinese offerings, which account for two thirds of the market.
With more than 120 million Africans projected to be wielding smartphones by 2020, the competition is beginning to flock to African markets. Yes, we have Chinese companies battling Google for market share in the African smartphone space. Industry and investment are coalescing to enhance communication, access to information, and proliferate what I believe in our age is a fundamental human right to the internet.
But the innovation doesn’t stop there. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a book, the pages of which act as purifying water filters for contaminated drinking sources. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to over 350 million who lack access to clean drinking water. The “drinkable book,” as its innovators are dubbing it, represents a scalable way to provide reliable access to drinking water for millions. Having proved the concept, the developers now seek to put the product into mass consumption to provide relief on a massive scale.
This is the intersection we at Asante Africa Foundation are thrilled to witness. Research and development, technology, investment, and philanthropy are all beginning to play a part in the same narrative. At this intersection we can direct the conversation and stir action to drive the growth even further. Companies are beginning to take note of the opportunity to tap into vast new markets, and in doing so are addressing some of Africa’s greatest challenges. We are thrilled to be in this space, witnessing history, and facilitating the growth and development fueled by our students and others like them, who are changing their own continent for the better. These revolutionary developments don’t exist without the local talent to justifying the investment — your investment in bringing Africa into the digital age.
We are thrilled to share with you the next installment in our series of thought panel discussions focusing on the intersection of philanthropy and investment, and we invite you to join us on 9/17 to discuss Innovation in Emerging Markets. We hope to see you there!
Thanks to Quartz Africa for sharing good news about Africa.